“There are other ways to seek justice. More death isn’t the answer. It never is.”
Asra is a demigod with a dangerous gift: the ability to dictate the future by writing with her blood. To keep her power secret, she leads a quiet life as a healer on a remote mountain, content to help the people in her care and spend time with Ina, the mortal girl she loves.
But Asra’s peaceful life is upended when bandits threaten Ina’s village and the king does nothing to help. Desperate to protect her people, Ina begs Asra for assistance in finding her manifest—the animal she’ll be able to change into as her rite of passage to adulthood. Asra uses her blood magic to help Ina, but her spell goes horribly wrong and the bandits destroy the village, killing Ina’s family.
Unaware that Asra is at fault, Ina swears revenge on the king and takes a savage dragon as her manifest. To stop her, Asra must embark on a journey across the kingdom, becoming a player in lethal games of power among assassins, gods, and even the king himself.
Most frightening of all, she discovers the dark secrets of her own mysterious history—and the terrible, powerful legacy she carries in her blood.
TW: blood, self-harm (comes with the territory of the magic)
Ever since I read Of Fire and Stars a while back, I was hoping for a sequel (which it is getting!), but for the uninformed, this is a PREQUEL. It’s set some 200 years before OFaS in the same world, and I am so happy to report that I had a really good time reading it!
The magic? Fascinating. The antagonists? Plural and interesting. The love interest? An absolute sweetheart and a thief (read as: another thief character I love with my whole damn heart). The magic system? Unique and loaded with consequences for its use (albeit maybe a tiny bit underdeveloped and vague at times). It just had so many elements of things that I adore, and that kept me hooked to it the whole time. Plus, the main character is kind of a disaster and honestly? It was pretty refreshing to have a character who made mistakes and was out of her depth and afraid of the options before her. Not to mention lovesick, for better or for worse. Asra is far from being perfect, which I appreciated a ton, especially since she’s a demigod.
The other thing I really appreciated was that this world isn’t homophobic or biphobic. The tension doesn’t stem from that. It stems from the fact that a whole village is dead and gone, and the blood is on Asra’s hands, not to mention that she is not a killer by any stretch of the imagination. She is as peaceful as possible whenever she can be, and yet all this tragedy keeps happening around her. In most books, I think a character like her would intentionally become a killer to survive, but somehow, she didn’t. She grew, but that particular core stayed largely the same, and when so many stories lately are about characters becoming hardened to the world around them in order to get by, I’m really pleased that Asra didn’t do that here.
Oh, and circling back a little, I’m actually delighted with the representation of bisexuality here. By now, I think a lot of folks heard about the review that painted this as a somehow lesser depiction of bisexuality because the final couple is M/F, but that’s. That’s literally how bisexuality works. Asra is shown to be in love with another girl, and later, she’s in love with a boy. If she was only ever in love with Ina, only ever in love with girls, she’d be a lesbian and not bi. And bi folks who are in love with someone of the opposite gender are not any less bi for it.
I may have some strong personal feelings about this tbh, but we’ll move on because I get the impression most folks knew that review was a load of, pardon my French on this fine morning, shit.
Anyway, I did only give this 3.5 stars, and that’s because I think Coulthurst’s writing is a little…clunky, for lack of a better word. Her dialogue is hard to like sometimes (except Hal, that wonderful, thieving scamp), and usually comes across as stiff or contrived. And while she certainly moves the plot along with a number of subplots in the book that lead to something greater, the amount of time she spends on each subplot feels out of balance, so we learn more about a set of characters we really never see again, and about characters who had the potential to drastically change the outcome of the story. Additionally, I thought Ina was going to be a much more important antagonist than she was. I loved what I saw of her, but I don’t think I saw enough of her at the right times to enjoy the ways she helped shape the plot.
Overall, I had a good time reading Inkmistress, and I’ll happily spend a good three or four hours in Coulthurst’s world when the OFaS sequel or other related books come out. It’s fun, it’s a great break from reality (which doesn’t have nearly enough dragons), and even if bits of it result in a less than well-oiled machine, I’m still in a good mood when I’m done. And that’s good in a book. That’s so good.
What did you think of Inkmistress? What do you think of dragons? What other dragon books have you read recently? In case it’s not clear, I totally have dragons on the brain right now.